Chile beats Argentina in penalty shootout to defend Copa America title

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Chile beats Argentina in penalty shootout to defend Copa America title
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Chile retained the Copa America by claiming the one-off Copa America Centenario in a rematch against Argentina at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. Just like last summer, two hours of soccer yielded no goals. And just like last year, the Chileans eventually prevailed on penalty kicks 4-2.

That saw to it that La Roja now has two straight South American titles – the second of which included the entire Western Hemisphere – after 99 years of futility in the tournament. Argentina, meanwhile, have now lost the final of a major tournament in three consecutive summers. In 2014, the World Cup final was lost to Germany in extra time. And then followed Copa America heartbreak and the déjà vu of it.

[ Copa America: Messi retires from national team | The final as it happened | Match stats ]

"A lot of people said we were not favorites. A lot of people said that we were actually helped during the Copa America last year," Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal told Fox Sports 1 after the game. "But we finally proved we can win it at a neutral venue and we are ready to keep working hard to achieve more things in the future."

The game started off with a bang. Right from the kickoff, Argentina surged forward and Ever Banega lashed a shot just wide of Claudio Bravo's goal from the top of the box within 20 seconds.

[ COPA AMERICA | Predictions | Scores/Schedule | Standings | Teams ]

But the mood of this final was set a few minutes later, when Chile star Alexis Sanchez was raked by the studs of an overzealous Argentine defender and referee Heber Lopes left the infraction unpunished. Soon enough, the Brazilian had lost control of the game. By not cracking down on the carnage early on, the game quickly became a stop-start affair as crunching tackles carved up the temporary grass as well as the run of play.

Argentina seized control for a spell, if not possession, but the only other real chance it would forge before the intermission came from a defensive blunder in the Chilean half. Defender Gary Medal took a woeful touch on a back pass. Gonzalo Higuain pounced and scampered off with the ball. But he chipped his finish over diving goalkeeper Claudio Bravo inches wide, as Medel chased it and crashed into the post.

Things soon got strange as Lopes tried to impose order on a game that had long since gotten away from him. Before the half-hour mark, he sent off Chile's Marcelo Diaz for blocking Lionel Messi running at the defense at full bore, stopping a promising play – the second time he'd given him a yellow for just such a play. Messi, in a rare act of unsportsmanlike behavior, had demanded that booking. And Lopes obliged.

But there would be something of a karmic retribution, justly or not, if you even believe in such a thing. In the 40th minute, Argentina encircled the Chileans in their own box. Messi went down on light but very real contact and was given a yellow for flopping. That was just as harsh as a penalty might have been, but neither needed to be called.

Yet before halftime, the numbers would be even again when Lopes sent off Argentina's Marcos Rojo with a straight red card for a tackle on Arturo Vidal from behind. That too, felt harsh, especially since he'd actually played the ball.

The game cooled off some in the second half, marching inevitably towards extra time as neither team forged any significant chances until the late going. The whole affair degenerated into a slog in tiny central spaces, a pair of puzzles that couldn't be solved.

The only moments of note came when substitute Sergio Aguero, who came on for the misfiring Higuain, had a pair of shots, neither of which were on frame. Eduardo Vargas stung Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero's hands with a low shot from an acute angle at the other end.

A late flurry could have decided the cup. But Ramiro Funes Mori's last-ditch intervention on an apparent tap-in for Alexis from close range saved the game for Argentina. At the other end, Messi immediately shanked a shot wide on the counterattack.

And so, for a second summer in a row, the Copa America final between Argentina and Chile went to extra time.

That added half hour proved to be more entertaining and likely to produce a goal than the 90 minutes that preceded it. Right away, on a counter, Vargas's diving header was saved by Romero. Then Aguero's header from a Messi free kick was tipped off his own bar by Bravo.

The sides kept running at each other, both knowing that their fate would be largely left up to chance if they let the game go to penalties, but also incapable of ending the thing before then. To penalties it went, though.

Romero saved Vidal's weak first effort for Chile. But Messi then airmailed his kick as well.

Every subsequent penalty was made, until Lucas Biglia's effort was saved by Bravo. Francisco Silva converted the winning kick and sent the red-clad section behind the goal into raptures, along with the rest of Chile.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.